Eurovision: Sandie Shaw calls on Azerbaijan to stop pulling the strings of the nation's media

British icon Sandie Shaw, famed for her 1967 Eurovision hit Puppet on a String, today backed Amnesty International’s calls to the authorities of Azerbaijan to put an end to its brutal repression of the media and freedom of expression.

Azerbaijan’s capital Baku will host this year’s Eurovision competition on 22-26 May.

The recent case of Khadija Ismayilova encouraged Sandie to speak out. Khadija Ismayilova is a prominent investigative journalist in Azerbaijan and has been looking into corruption surrounding the country’s president.

However, three weeks ago she received a package in the mail with photographs from a covert video of her having sex with her boyfriend in her own apartment. The package came with a message telling her to stop investigating the president or the video would be released. Ismayilova refused and made the threat public. The tape was published online in mid-March.

Sandie Shaw said:

“That anyone would stoop so low in an attempt to silence an independent journalist is sickening. The people behind this appalling blackmail and smear campaign must be brought to justice. And the persecution of independent journalists in Azerbaijan must stop.”

Sandie’s call came on the same day Amnesty International launched a Twitter and Facebook action calling on the European Broadcasting Union – organisers of Eurovision – to do more to ensure that the authorities in Azerbaijan respect human rights. The action is also demanding the release of 14 prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan.

Both calls are being backed by Mira Aroyo, from the Liverpudlian band Ladytron – a group which has a huge following across Europe.

Mira Aroyo said:

“As a songwriter, I need a creative environment to work. Freedom is like air for artists. The government claims that Azerbaijan will ensure a good atmosphere for Eurovision participants, but Azeri musicians that disagree with them are still having their gigs shut down, some are even beaten up.

“These 14 people currently behind bars were calling for an end to this kind of repression, and I support that. They should all be released, and the organisers of Eurovision should be saying this publicly to the authorities. This is not about politics, it's about a basic right that every man and woman is born with, a right which Eurovision is supposed to celebrate.”

Amnesty International Azerbaijan campaigner Max Tucker added:

“The Eurovision Song Contest celebrates free expression, and the organisers claim to champion media freedom.

“Yet Azerbaijan has one of the worst environments for media and free expression in Europe. Ordinary Azeris struggling to speak freely have been living in an atmosphere of fear for the past 20 years.

“The Azerbaijani government has spent millions of dollars on preparing to host Eurovision 2012, and is eager for the event to be a success. The European Broadcasting Union therefore has a unique opportunity to demand the government respects freedom of expression beyond the short period when the rest of Europe is watching in May. That would be a genuine legacy for this year’s competition.”

Sandie Shaw is one of several former Eurovision competitors to back the campaign.
Former Eurovision contestants from Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands, Iceland, Norway, Poland and Ukraine have also signed up to the campaign, as have artists from Bulgaria, Germany and Azerbaijan itself.

A full list of the artists and details of how to take part in the campaign are available from the website www.amnesty.org.uk/freeaznow. A video accompanying the company is available to view at YouTube http://youtu.be/_Jo4s9rO2ZI
 

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